The Bennett High School football team has been on a mission all season long. After losing last season’s state championship, the Tigers have some unfinished business to tend to and that opportunity has arrived.
Bennett will play Section IX champion Newburgh Free Academy at 3 p.m. Sunday at Syracuse University’s JMA Wireless Dome (formerly the Carrier Dome) for the Class AA New York State championship.
Both schools will be seeking their first state football title. The Tigers lost last year’s state championship game to Section I power Carmel by a 42-12 count. The Tigers haven’t forgotten about that feeling and since the first day of training camp they’ve been focused on finishing the job.
“We’ve got big goals,” Bennett quarterback Antonio Davis III said earlier in the season. “We don’t want to fall short this time. That definitely motivates us every day.”
That win was a part of a 26-game winning streak for Carmel that spanned three seasons. That run was ended by Newburgh on Nov. 19. Quarterback Mason Hoover’s four-yard TD pass to Deondre Johnson in overtime was the game-winner in the Goldbacks’ 26-20 win over the Rams in a NYSPHSAA quarterfinal at Middletown High School.
The star for Newburg is Johnson, a 6-foot-8 senior wide receiver who has committed to Rutgers. He had four catches for 111 yards and a touchdown and rushed for a score in the Goldbacks 34-20 win over Christian Brothers Academy in the state semifinals.
The Goldbacks have won eighth Section IX championships in the last 11 seasons and will be competing in the state title game for the third time. Newburgh – located on the shores of the Hudson River – is in the state championship game for the first time since 2014. The last Section IX team to win a Class AA football title was Monroe-Woodbury in 2005.
The Tigers will be looking to be the first Section VI team to win the Class AA crown since Jamestown in 2014 and the second Buffalo Public Schools team ever to do so, joining the 2015 South Park Sparks.
Officially Bennett is 6-6 on the season but that’s because a paperwork oversight led to the Tigers forfeiting their first six games, including four wins. On the field Bennett is 10-2, the only close one a come-from-behind 17-14 win over McQuaid in the Far West Regionals.
Bennett dropped non-league games to Austintown Fitch (Ohio) and Erie (Pa.) McDowell early in the regular season. Other than the McQuaid game, the Tigers closest game against a New York opponent was a 13-point win at Lancaster in October, Bennett’s first win ever at Foyle-Kling FIeld, a win that was ultimately forfeited.
The Tigers shook off that adversity and steamrolled way past everyone else en route to back-to-back Class AA sectional titles and the third in school history.
Now they have a chance at the ultimate goal.
And in the words of coach Steve McDuffie after the 36-10 win over Lancaster in the Section VI title game at Highmark Stadium, the Tigers hope they can “make Section VI proud of us and we can represent Section VI and Western New York right.”
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